Here is the first installment of Reading Notes, a monthly, perhaps even bi-monthly round-up of what I’ve been reading. What follows aren’t reviews in the conventional sense; there will be no thumbs up or down, no rating system, stars or otherwise. I rarely finish books I don’t enjoy and generally don’t say much about those. I am my mother’s daughter (“If you can’t say something nice…”); so, if books show up here I think they’re worth reading. Only brief notes, light commentary or annotations will accompany most titles, enough I hope to spark your interest, and you can take it from there. Each installment of Reading Notes will open, however, with a slightly longer look at a book I’d like to feature. I might have found it especially beautiful and appealing, as is the case today. Or maybe it loomed particularly important to our time. Or perhaps it helped me think through an idea, a situation, an issue that troubles, challenges, or inspires me.
Early April brought me back to Laura L. Hansen’s Déjà Vu, a slim but weighty volume which I bought before Christmas, when the poet signed books at our local arts center. At the time, I could only page through the collection; but I knew I’d come back in earnest when I could give it more attention.
From the opening poem, “Déjà vu,” through “The Truth Upon Waking,” “Her Body,” “The Mythology of Loneliness,” “A Cup of Sky,” and “Mitosis” (to name only a handful of favorites), to the closing poem, “Desire at 60,” I found Hansen’s poetry at once sating and stimulating, each poem like a bite of rich chocolate dessert—it completely satisfies but also sets you yearning for the next bite.
The poems I like best in Déjà Vu look inward, even as they reach out toward the reader, occasionally in spite of themselves (“Sometimes I Pray That You Won’t Talk to Me”); they are introverts, these poems, perfectly fine with their own company yet longing to be heard and appreciated. There is beauty in every poem, whether the subject be mundane or elevated, dark (“Testimony”) or pulsing with light (“Mitosis”); they are well-wrought with exquisite language that can stun or stifle (and more!) to appropriate effect. And flowing through it all is the river of Hansen’s awareness, so keen the reader just knows she is in excellent hands.
Also in Poetry: Ellen Doré Watson’s Pray Me Stay Eager (Alice James Books, 2018). The title drew me in: that’s my kind of prayer. As did the book’s cover: I’m such a sucker for green, growing things. And now I’m just glad to have these astonishing, sometimes strange or surprising, often difficult poems in my life! Here’s snippet from “Women for the World” –one, of many favorites:
…Sharp- or honey-tongued, she / legals, loyals, triages, stops the superhighway. She sings / herself, and everyone. Flecked with paint or pain, knee- / deep in the way out or in. She drives. We women–elected, / reflecting, dissecting, refracting–ignition for the world. (56)
In Nonfiction: At the time of Ursula K. Le Guin’s death I was reading No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters (HMH, 2017). This month I followed up with Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter: Writing About Life and Books, 2000-2016 (Small Beer Press, 2016). Individually or taken together, these two latest-in-life collections of essays, reviews, blogposts, journal entries and more (many not previously published) are a tour de force. They offer so much of what is needed right now: strong, unminced words, not just from someone who has been there, but from someone who cares deeply about the future– of words, of writing, the arts, women, humanity, the planet. These two volumes will hold pride of place in my library for a good long time
Attracted, as usual, by any title that involves a dinner table (be it literal or metaphorical), I found myself reading a book I likely would not otherwise have picked up– A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovitz (WJK Press, 2017). I am here to tell you, that no matter where you are in your relationship (or lack of relationship) to religion or spirituality– institutional or otherwise, Christian or otherwise–there is a great deal you can take away from this book. If you are interested in fostering more truly inclusive community in these deeply divisive times; if you long to become more of a ‘big-table’ person in your personal life, I hope you will read this book.
Coming soon~ Reading Notes, Part II: Fiction (Children’s Books, Middle Grade, Adult)